In this blog entry, I’ll be starting an exploration of what triggers violence between religions. I say “starting” because this is a field that is forever evolving.
Triggers of Violence—a Beginning List
Projections vs Truth: Do you really know if you want to be “right” or if you wish to live a life free of violence?
When faced with choosing between being “right” or achieving peaceful and non-violent societies, I think most of us would choose peace, but that is often another example of a conditioned response.
Consider the following questions:
How do we achieve what you consider to be “real peace” and what does that look like? Be concrete!
What exactly does “nonviolence” mean to you? Be concrete.
Give examples of a kind of peace that does not, in some way, impinge upon the rights, cultural mores or religious convictions of others. Is this possible? If so, how can you and others work toward it?
What would you do to have peace (as you define it) and how far would you go to make your definition of peace a reality? Take a moment and consider that question and write down your answer. Do you see any seeds of violence in this reply? How does that make you feel?
Richard Rohr, a modern contemplative thinker in the Franciscan tradition of Christianity makes this observation:
“Good religion is always about seeing rightly. “The lamp of body is the eye; if your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light” as Jesus says in Matthew 6:22. How you see is what you see. And to see rightly is to be able to be fully present—without fear, without bias, and without judgement. It is such hard work for the ego, for the emotions and for the body that I think most of us would simply prefer to go to church services.”
-The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, Pg. 62-62
If we consider “peace” as one of the central aims of “good religion” and a non-violent culture, then we are once again in a position to do the uncomfortable work with ourselves, our fears, our biases and judgments. Until we undertake this work of gently understanding ourselves, we will not be able to create peace within ourselves or our institutions. It truly begins within each of us. As the Three Amigos (Pastor Don Mackenzie, Rabbi Ted Falcon and Imam Jamal Rahman) share, “One can only get to true peace peacefully” (Mackenzie et al, p. 76)
Tunnel vision: picking and choosing scriptural passages to support violence
As Imam Jamal Rahman points out, Rumi, one of the finest of the Sufi poets from the 13th century wrote: “A Bee and a Wasp both drink from the same flower. One produces honey, the other a sting.” Why? Because it is in their nature to be what they are, no matter that the material comprising their reality is the same. This observation can also be applied to us: How we read scripture tells us more about ourselves than it does about any absolutes. Or as Richard Rohr said above, “How you see is what you see.” Scripture is beautiful because it is a mirror—in the words we chose and use from this vast resource, we have the perfect image of who and what WE are internally, and using that reflection skillfully, we can begin to work toward transforming ourselves. However, if we have a bias, like thinking all Muslims are violent, that is the only thing we shall see in the Qur’an, and we will likely take the passages we find out of the historical, literary and cultural contexts to which they belong. To make matters worse, we often do so while ignoring the violence in our own scriptures. The scriptures of all faiths are neither wholly violent nor wholly peaceful—they are, as my previous blog entry shared, merely snapshots of a once-lived reality, captured in a language often not our own, translated, commented upon, codified, mystified and simplified as needed. Scripture is a lens through which we view our current lives, a lens which we often sadly craft to protect and defend ourselves, our egos and our institutional personas. Using scripture to encourage violence tells the world more about the violence in yourself than in your professed religion. And it tells us almost nothing about the nature of God. That should be a sobering wake-up call indeed. But it is also the good news—if we find ourselves horrified by that violence, we are now aware of it and can work toward a change of heart (repentance or metanoia).
Media caters to OUR tastes
On page 79 of Religion Gone Astray, the authors point out an incredibly important facet of understanding media’s part in promoting violence: MEDIA CATERS TO OUR TASTES AS A CULTURE. If we did not, as a culture, possess a taste for violence, then our news reporting, talk shows, books, movies, music, games, etc. would not mirror this back to us because it would not be economically attractive to do. These industries are driven by our tastes and expectations as much as they, in turn, feed this basic craving for violent content. Once again, we are forced to see that the work of the individual is critical in setting up the conditions for violence to end. One by one, we can make choices that begin to influence the larger culture. Changing the human heart is the first step toward changing the world. In fact, most religious systems would agree it is the only way.
Another painful cornerstone of any kind of violence is the inability of people to practice, in a practical manner, unconditional love. As I explored in a previous blog entry, love with conditions often masquerades as unconditional love. Notice this common statement: “I love you but I don’t like you.” These words immediately point to a set of expectations and judgments that create parameters around a relationship. The child will tend to hear “I don’t like you” rather than “I love you.” Of course, truly unconditional love may be a Divine trait more than a human one; yet, I personally believe that any religious or social system that actively teaches that God or Mystery engages in human expectations of behavior is showing more about their institution or culture or point in history than they are about the Ground of Our (collective) Being. Conditional love allows a cultural system to create reward and punishment ideologies based on legalistic wording and concepts that are firmly rooted in specific times and places. I fully believe, as does Richard Rohr, that unless God is better than the very best human being you know, you probably are not really engaged with God.
When we chose to practice unconditional love, we are thrust into yet another opportunity for transformation and growth. We have to begin to clearly see how our cultural and religious expectations color the judgments we make about other people’s lifestyles, religious preferences, sexuality, and so on. Unconditional means to literally have NO CONDITIONS THAT WOULD PUT ANOTHER BEING OUTSIDE OF GOD’S LOVE and requires us to suspend our judgement—the very deep work of “judge not lest ye be judged”. It does not take much musing to see that this is a much harder undertaking than merely following religious codes and rules or doing things “right” in order to get some hazy sort of other-worldly reward. (By the way, have you ever noticed that promise of heaven or of being “chosen” flies right in the face of unconditional love? These two concepts cannot co-exist!).
Practice the Mind You Want to Inhabit
So, transcending our own taste for violence, as well as the very human predilection to use religion to support violence, requires us to make concrete choices every waking moment. And these choices must be based on much more than “thought” or “ideas”. We cannot really argue or conceptually think our way out of violent behaviors and thoughts. Rather, we have to know, on a deep and nonverbal level what unconditional love feels like and find it to be a more enticing experience than violence. In other words, we have to enter into a state of unconditional love and let become the very ground of our being.
So how do we do this? Certainly, we can monitor the way we use language and gestures. Certainly, we can forgive and accept forgiveness. Certainly we read books and teach others ways to live nonviolently. But if any of this fails to touch us deeply, well below the level of reality where we play with words and concepts, ideas and judgments, then we have not truly entered into a transformed state that ensures a more lasting peace.
Many of us are familiar with a story told by the Dalai Lama. One day he was greeting monks recently released from prisons where they suffered terrible physical hardships. One very old monk leaned in and confessed, “I was in great danger.”
“Of losing your life?” the Dalai Lama inquired, his eyes widening in concern.
“Of losing my sense of compassion for my captors,” the monk replied.
So how did the monk, immersed for years in a world of deeply personal violence and deprivation, preserve his ability to not only refrain from violence but actively practice a mind filled with compassion? The answer is incredibly simple and incredibly difficult at the same time.
Most likely, he practiced meditation. He practiced contemplative prayer. Not the kind of prayer that asked for release or even for help to keep his sense of compassion. Not the kind of prayer where he railed at his captors, asking the divine for retribution. Not the kind of prayer that asked for reality to be anything other than what it was, nor for his captors to be anything other than what they were. Rather, he practiced an open heart, not shutting down or shutting out. He practiced abiding in what a Christian might call “Presence”, the Holy Present Moment, resisting nothing, wishing for nothing, expecting nothing.
In that kind of contemplative space, the web of cultural bias, religious upbringing, our age and the age we live in, our gender, and a thousand other conditioned strands that make up our personality and mind finally stop vibrating and agitating and short-circuiting our ability to stand unguarded and “naked” in the world. We are who we are and accept others are who they are without criticism, judgement or the need that they become like us. Isn’t it telling that Moses was told the name of God: I AM. Right here, immediate present, awake, open-hearted, a state of being more vast than even the concepts of peace or violence. Yes, we too can practice this, each within the cradle of our own tradition, and begin to practice the mind, emotions and body that we want to inhabit and so infuse the world with our basic sanity.